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A History In Fragments: Europe in the Twentieth Century [Paperback]

Richard Vinen
4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
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Book Description

7 Mar 2002

The problem with the history of twentieth-century Europe is that everyone thinks they know it. The great stories of the century - the two world wars, the rise and fall of Nazism and communism, female emancipation - seem self-evidently important. But behind the grand narratives, the politics and the ideologies, lies another history: the history of forces that shaped the lives of individual Europeans.

That is the thrust of Richard Vinen's magisterial survey of this uniquely destructive and creative century. It argues that there is no single history that encompasses the experience of all Europeans, but rather a multiplicity of different, partially interlocking, histories. Some of these histories are told here in a book which seeks to root the generalisations of large-scale analysis in the concrete - and sometimes incongruous - details of individual lives. Challenging, informing and revealing, this is history writing at its finest.

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A History In Fragments: Europe in the Twentieth Century + Dark Continent: Europe's Twentieth Century + Age of Extremes : The Short Twentieth Century 1914-1991
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Product details

  • Paperback: 736 pages
  • Publisher: Abacus; New Ed edition (7 Mar 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 034911269X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0349112695
  • Product Dimensions: 12.6 x 19.9 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 366,039 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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Amazon Review

"Dark continent", "the age of extremes", "Europe divided"--these are just some of the descriptive labels that historians have attached to the late and unlamented 20th century. And why not? One hundred years of European history dominated by war, genocide, unemployment and totalitarianism hardly deserve better epitaphs. But as Richard Vinen perceptively and provocatively suggests in his deft and wry survey, it is partly a matter of perspective. The world wars only took up 10 per cent of the century, inter-war Europe was as violent as anything that came later and, since 1945, economic growth, political consensus, social mobility and the re-integration of Europe have meant Europeans leave the 20th century a much better place than they found it in 1900. Vinen, a specialist in French history and one of an exciting younger generation of modern European historians, has written an intelligent and stylish book, which will upset most received wisdom on the subject. The book has a "French" feel--there is more on demography and sex, culture and religion, than on politics and ideology, and it is spiced with amusing anecdotes, stories and a stunning interlude covering photography. For an engaging argument about the recent European past this is the place to start. --Miles Taylor --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


Fascinating and immensely readable...often sums up key moments in soundbite phrases that imprint themselves beautifully on the memory. (GLASGOW SUNDAY HERALD)

Beautifully written, and can be confidently recommended to anyone seeking to make sense of our recent history. (DAILY TELEGRAPH)

A master of telling fact and illuminating insight, Vinen somehow manages to be both opinionated and objective. (Andrew Roberts)

I admired [A HISTORY IN FRAGMENTS] very much indeed. It struck me as a tour de force, as impressive in its collation of little-known facts as in its presentation of fresh and always intelligent interpretation. (Anthony Howard)

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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
By A Customer
This book is easily the best of the general histories of Europe that have appeared in the last decade. It's less partisan than books by Eric Hobsbawm and Norman Davies, and is more complete than Mark Mazower's Dark Continent. A History in Fragments is especially good on communist regimes in Eastern Europe, and there is a superb chapter on their collapse. The book covers all the major political landmarks, as well as the unprecedented social social and economic changes of the twentieth century. Two chapters give us a fascinating account of the changing nature of the family and relations between the sexes. The central message of the book is probably that it is impossible to write a single history of Europe - the experience of British people in the 1990s, for example, has virtually nothing in common with that of the Russian peasant in the era of forced collectivisation. Whilst the author devotes much space to the grim side of Europe's twentieth century - the photographs are especially dark - he ends on a cautiously upbeat note. In 2000 the lives of most Euroepans have become easier.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Impressive, but with several weaknesses 5 Jun 2007
Any book seeking to cover the past 100 years of European history is bound to be selective in its facts and to concentrate on certain themes at the expense of others. Richard Vinen is an expert on French history, so naturally his most incisive arguments and penetrating insights come when he is dealing with France. On the Soviet Union and eastern Europe he is less sure of his footing: he seems heavily reliant on French sources for his sections on the communist world, and in a few cases he doesn't even bother to change the French spelling of a Russian placename into English (e.g., he writes "Bachkirie" rather than Bashkiria). He also seems determined to have nothing good to say about the UK, and to be itching to bash Margaret Thatcher and the modern Conservative party in general. There are many good features to the book, but readers should be aware there are a few weaknesses and some prejudices, too.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The whole story 30 Dec 2000
By A Customer
So many British written history books concentrate on what has happened on our continent from a very narrow perspective - but not this one. This book assumes some knowledge of what has gone on in the last 100 years, and then uses pertinant statistics and stories to expand on this. The author looks over the entire continent, not just the Great Powers and not just political life.
Despite this huge sweep, the book holds together well.
History students will find a lot in here to back up theories rather than form them.
So why not 5 stars ? The author somehow loses the plot as we approach the present day. This is maybe inevitable, written twelve months ago, the Internet was going to change the world, now it is a failing business methodology. History is best viewed slightly detached.
Buy it,
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5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant Book 1 Mar 2014
By Ledzep
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Such an interesting read, some pieces of information that were new to me but so relevant for my current history module. I find Vinen's book easy to access and recommend it for anyone who wants to know more about twentieth century European history.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Sweeping and provocative 11 Sep 2000
By A Customer
As a good Greek girl, I am a great fan of Mark Mazower's "Dark Continent". However, I have to admit that Richards Vinen's General History of Europe is a better book. It is increadibly sweeping, ambitious and provocative. I like the attention to the post 1945 period and the attention to those neglected corners of Central and Eastern Europe. Furthermore, I find that the book, whilst not lacking historical perspective and accuracy, is very good read. It looks at history with historical knowledge and human warmth. Although, it would be nice if he occasionally remembered the existence of Greece.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Provocative, challenging, outstanding 9 Sep 2000
By A Customer
A one-volume history of Europe in the 20th century is always an ambitious undertaking but Mr Vinen's approach is unusual and original and works. The book is consistently engaging and extremely well-written, and there is something interesting and challenging on nearly every page. Beautifully illustrated, too. Highly recommended.
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